The Northwest has undeservedly been overshadowed over the years by the more well-known destinations in the South West Atlantic Coast and East Coast of Ireland.
This is definitely changing with the area really beginning to get the recognition it deserves as one of the top golfing areas in the world. The stunning Northwest coast, shaped by the wild Atlantic from North Antrim through Derry, Donegal, Sligo and Mayo provides some of the most breath-taking links courses on the planet. The area has been the host of multiple Irish Open’s over the recent years and will be on the world stage this year as it hosts the 148th Open. The first to be hosted in Ireland in almost 70 years. So when deciding my list of five must play courses for 2019 I have gone for one from each of the 5 counties on this coastline, all of which are Links courses as this really is a Links Paradise. In reality it would not have been hard to list ten or more must play courses in the area so I have included some honourable mentions also. So, starting in the north and moving westwards around the coast Emerald Five Star’s recommendations are;
Royal Portrush – Dunluce Links
Royal Portrush needs no introduction. It was awarded number 7 in the World’s greatest golf courses in 2018 by Golf Digest and in 2019 all golf fans in the world will have their eyes glued to this majestic links course as it hosts The Open. There can be no arguments that this is one of the worlds great courses delivering from tee to green. 2019 is the first time that The Open will be played on Irish soil since 1951 as it returns to Royal Portrush. This tournament, the first Open that has ever been all ticket, sold out within a couple of weeks of tickets going on sale, which is a true testament to the love of golf that the people of Ireland hold. Expect a tournament that will last in the memory both for the spectacular course and the fans. I can’t wait to see the likes of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and of course our local boys take on the Irish Links.
Portstewart – Strand Course
The Strand Course at Portstewart Golf Club in County Derry, host of the Irish Open in 2017 is only a ten minute drive from Royal Portrush. This links course is set on the mouth of the River Bann where it meets the North Atlantic Ocean. It is famous for its massive dunes and in particular the front nine which confidently rivals any front nine holes in the world. As you stand on the first tee, a Par 4 dogleg right, you are towering over the fairway with views over the strand and across the water towards County Donegal’s Inis Eoin Peninsula. This is the perfectly perfect start to your round. On this first tee you will really get a feel of what is to come and what makes the Northwest of Ireland such a special place. Up, down, around and over the dunes and undulations you will battle, and you will undoubtedly fall in love with the North Atlantic Strand.
Ballyliffin – Glashedy Links
Ballyliffin on the westside of the aforementioned Inis Eoin Peninsula in County Donegal is only a few miles from Ireland’s most northernly point, Malin head. Ballyliffin Golf Club is widely regarded as the finest links complex in Ireland boasting two championship links courses – The Old Links and Glashedy Links. And while it is the Glashedy Links, host of the 2018 Irish Open that makes our list, when you are there you may as well play both of these magnificent courses. Ballyliffin is somewhere that I hold dear to my heart and I am sure that after your visit you will too.
Ballyiffin tops our list of courses in County Donegal which in itself is quite an accolade as to stand apart in a county that includes such as Portsallon, Rossapenna Sandy Hills & Old Tom Morris Links, Narin & Portnoo and Donegal Golf Club Murvagh is a massive achievement, however all these course deserve a mention as none of these truly world class links will leave you disappointed after a round.
Enniscrone in County Sligo also on the Wild Atlantic Way is among the finest and most challenging of traditional Irish links golf courses. Working its way into and through some of the most magnificent dunes in Ireland, the course lives long in the memory. The incredible rugged beauty of the course and its surroundings is the most obvious attraction, but this is matched by the challenge of the course.
As with Donegal Sligo is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to world class links courses. We cannot mention Sligo without giving truly honourable mentions to County Sligo Golf Club at Rosses Point and the hidden gem Strandhill Golf Club, both great courses in their own right.
Carne in North Mayo is one of the more remote great courses in Ireland. It lies in magnificent unspoiled sand dunes overlooking Blacksod Bay and the wild Atlantic Ocean near the beautiful town of Belmullet. Carne Golf Links was the last links course to be designed by the legendary Eddie Hackett and is believed by many who have played it to be his greatest design. In Ireland I am of the opinion that if you look for the most remote spots you are more likely to have the breath taken from you and Carne really proves this point. You will not forget this course and it will definitely be one that you will look forward to returning too.